Changes allowing ministers to employ more hand-picked advisers risk undermining good policy making, a former civil servant has warned.
Alasdair Palmer, who was a speech writer for Home Secretary Theresa May, said Extended Ministerial Offices were part of a trend away from “objective, impartial advice”.
A number of Cabinet ministers, including Nicky Morgan, have apparently expressed interest in setting up an EMO, allowing them to appoint up to 10 experts and select officials.
The individuals are employed on civil service contracts rather than as special advisers. In a pamphlet published by the Civitas think-tank Mr Palmer cautioned that the system – authorised under the coalition – marks a “further step in diminishing the role played by civil servants in providing advice”.
“Their primary role will not be to evaluate objectively and impartially the policies that the secretary of state has arrived in office to implement,” he said.
“It will be to endorse and to implement whatever has already been decided.
“They will aim to protect the secretary of state from criticism, not to expose him or her to it.
“It is already very difficult for all but the most senior civil servants even to put a proposal to a minister which has not been vetted first by political advisers. Extended ministerial offices are likely to make it impossible.”
Mr Palmer argued that the politicisation of advice to ministers is undermining the Northcote-Trevelyan settlement, designed in the 19th century to rid government of “unmeritocratic, politicised jobbery”.
“The actions of successive governments since 1997 have in fact been to downgrade and marginalise objective and impartial civil service advice, and to replace it with counsel from politically committed special advisers,” he said.